The song “Not” by the band Big Thief appears on their fourth studio album, Two Hands. The Brooklyn based quartet has a wide arsenal of Indie Rock songs, but “Not” plays with the rules of song making and thus takes on a unique, poetic form.
The song uses the repetition of the word “Not” or nor to describe the indescribable. For me the song encapsulates the aspects of life that cannot be put into simple words, the closest one can come to explaining it is to say what it is not. What I mean by “it” is the feelings and emotions essential to the human experience. For me the song begins to grasp at what it feels like to be alive. My favorite aspect of the song is that rather than try to explain a complex subject like how to feels to be a human, Big Thief describes the describable, more simple aspects of life to draw contrast between knowable, and the inexplicable larger feelings.
These two lines blur the gender, and thus humans seamlessly. It is another instance in which the song leaves things unexplained to its audience. Rather than explicitly state who the song is talking about, a negative space is left, switching genders one line to the next has the same effect as saying not before every statement. It explicitly states the simple, but leaves the complex deliberately left unsaid. It also emphasizes the mutual human experience over the individual.
The imagery of human flesh in these lines reminds the audience of the subject of the song, humans, yet also reiterates that appearance is not what is important. Saying not before a line of dazzling imagery forces the reader to picture what they have just read, but also disregard it as unimportant. In this way, this imagery works at multiple levels to both communicate the humanity, and also disregard the physical world to better encapsulate the emotional one.
Apologies for the obnoxiously long quote, but here is the chorus of the song “Not.” I believe the song works to emphasize what being human feels like by describing all it does not. The use of a word, and then in the next line explaining the action of said word does multiple things. First it continues the themes of the human experience, by explain the most essential parts to life, like eating, laughter, dying. But in doing so, the song also shows that there is more to being a human, more that is inexplicable. We as the reader know there are larger emotional attached to be a human, because the ones in the chorus, while important are explainable and thus unable to truly describe what it is like to be alive. The chorus reminds the reader of shared humanity, while simultaneously proving that life is indescribable.
2 thoughts on “Not Not a Poetic Song”
This clearly took a lot of effort. Good job. With all of the undertones regarding what life is not, I am sensing a theme of existentialism. Big Thief strives to create their own essence.
This was well thought out and your first affirmation that sometimes the best way to descibe complex experiences is by describing what those experiences are not was really well put, and a topic often not articulated well. However, I felt that you articulated this point very effectively.